The Arrivo “End of Traffic” Video Looks a Lot Like 1956 General Motors Propaganda

A phony family sings the praises of traffic-free travel in a 1956 General Motors film imagining the future.
A phony family sings the praises of traffic-free travel in a 1956 General Motors film imagining the future.

Ever since Americans discovered car congestion, companies have been promising to make it go away.

General Motors’ 1939 World’s Fair exhibit, “Futurama,” famously claimed that people would be able to enjoy the freedom and comfort of their motor vehicles without the stress of clogged roads. Three generations later, the fantastic highways GM envisioned are clogged and Americans spend as much time behind the wheel as ever.

Have we learned anything in 80 years?

In 2017, Coloradans are hearing similar promises from Arrivo and Hyperloop One, two startups that the state government is welcoming with open arms. Their transport tech is a little different than what mid-century propagandists envisioned, but the idea is the same: You can still get around in personal vehicles, but The Future will solve congestion.

Here’s a comparison of the futurist road system imagined by GM in 1956 (in Technicolor!) and the one imagined by Arrivo, the company heralding “the end of traffic” by putting cars on a 200 mph conveyor belt.

First, the Arrivo advertisement:

“There was a time when I wasn’t my best,” a regretful voice says over b-roll of clogged, smoggy freeways. “I felt choked. Congested. I couldn’t breathe.”

In GM’s mid-century film, a nuclear family of four sits in their convertible, patriarch behind the wheel, stuck in traffic. He sings: “‘Til they bring the highways up to date, you can bet your high compression we’re gonna be late.”

Local, state, and federal governments have been bringing “the highways up to date” with expansion after expansion for 60 years. It hasn’t fixed the basic geometric problem: There are too many cars and not enough space for them in cities.

Arrivo won’t change geometry either, and shuttling personal vehicles from one place to another on its high-speed sleds won’t bring about “the end of traffic” as the company claims.

The ads are remarkably similar in other ways. From the promise of a sleek, yet-to-be-invented vehicle whirring down its own track without, miraculously, having to interact with other traffic…

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…to the interior shots of people thoroughly enjoying themselves without wearing seat belts:

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No matter how companies try to spin it, personal vehicles take up space. They did in 1956 and they do now.

There is no magic tech fix or cheat code that will unlock the secret to a world without congestion. What governments can do is invest in quality transit that moves more people in less space and build compact neighborhoods where people can safely and conveniently get around by walking and biking.